Black Lives Matter forces LGBTQ organization to face its history of racial exclusion

"A big part of the conversations that I had to have often was that even though things were well-intended, that didn't make it any less wrong or impactful," one Black activist said.
By Antonia Hylton

LOS ANGELES — An estimated 30,000 people converged in West Hollywood on Sunday to protest systemic racism and police brutality and to shine light on the specific needs of Black LGBTQ people. The event — which took place just ahead of the 50th anniversary of L.A.'s first pride event, originally called the Christopher Street West Parade — started out as a Black Lives Matter solidarity march, but it ultimately showed the divisions between two overlapping civil rights movements.

The event's initial organizers found themselves the recipients of backlash when they announced their plans in early June: Christopher Street West, or CSW, the historic, mostly white-led organization that typically produces the annual LA Pride Festival and Parade, never reached out to coordinate with Black Lives Matter activists about the march. In addition, it hired an event organizer who applied for a police permit for the parade — a move seen as offensive by many Black activists in the midst of anti-brutality protests.

For many people at the march Sunday, the backlash highlighted how the growing Black Lives Matter movement had the power to force ostensibly progressive LGBTQ organizations to grapple with blind spots and long-unaddressed histories of exclusion.

CSW canceled its solidarity march shortly after the backlash, and Gerald Garth, one of the few Black board members at CSW, formed a new council with a group of Black LGBTQ leaders. Together, they announced a new march, dubbed the "All Black Lives Matter" protest, without CSW's involvement. The result was Sunday's all-day event, featuring a march starting on Hollywood Boulevard and ending in West Hollywood, as well as lively performances, art and nonstop dancing.

"Putting Protest Back in Pride" originally aired on the Weekend Report on Quibi. Watch the full video here.

Gerald Garth, right, one of the few Black board members at Christopher Street West, formed a new council with a group of Black LGBTQ leaders.Quibi

"A big part of the conversations that I had to have often was that even though things were well-intended, that didn't make it any less wrong or impactful," Garth told NBC News. "And plus, too, through the lens of CSW being this legendary white agency proposing this Black effort, [the] community really received it as CSW, you know, aiming to co-opt or, you know, capitalize."

Luckie Fuller, an artist and trans activist, said a formal police presence "would've kept people from coming out here."

"It would've hindered a lot of our voices, and it would've dampened our voices," Fuller said.

Obtaining a police permit for its annual event, however, is part of the 50-year history of L.A.'s annual pride celebration. While New York held the very first pride march on June 28, 1970, later that same day, L.A. held the "world’s first permitted parade advocating for gay rights," a fact Christopher Street West still highlights on its website to this day.

Miss Shalae, a Beyoncé impersonator who performed at the march, said that when she first moved to Los Angeles, she couldn't persuade white-owned LGBTQ bars and clubs to book her for performances. She didn't have faith that CSW would learn from mistakes without a change in leadership.

"They're not giving us a seat at the table, which I feel like is super important. How can you know what we want without asking us what we want?" Miss Shalae said. "And it is definitely a time for that to change, absolutely."

Christopher Street West Executive Director Madonna Cacciatore, left, said the group is committed to making sure an oversight like this year's doesn't happen again.Quibi

CSW's executive director, Madonna Cacciatore, said it is committed to making sure that doesn't happen again. "And we're having the hard conversations now, to be honest with you," she said. "Because there's been a history, not only with our organization, but, you know, everybody's being asked to re-examine themselves and to look at ourselves through a different lens. We have been, you know, we always try to do the right thing. We sometimes don't do it well."

For some, the new march and the organization's apology were too little too late.

Ashlee Marie Preston, a Black trans writer and former CSW board member, decided she wouldn't attend. "What made me so frustrated about all of this is that I have direct relationships with people on the board," Preston said. "It's this idea that saviorism is solidarity. ... When we say Black Lives Matter, we need to also emphasize that Black leadership matters and that we have to trust that leadership."

Still, many in the crowd hoped that CSW and other similar organizations would learn from this year's mistakes. Brandon Anthony, an event producer, called CSW the "guinea pig" for the transformations Black LGBTQ activists want to see more broadly.

"Our target is not just CSW and LA Pride," he said. "We're going to challenge all nonprofits and corporations. ... Change your infrastructure and re-examine how Black lives are being treated."

CORRECTION (June 23, 2020, 2:31 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article included a factually incorrect quote about the makeup of the board of Christopher Street West. One member of the board identifies as a Black trans woman. The quote from Miss Shalae that there are no Black trans women on the board has been removed.

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